Facebook allows politicians to lie in ads—just not Adriel Hampton, a candidate for California governor.
Hampton, who is using his candidacy to shed light on Facebook’s controversial political ad policies, learned from Facebook on Tuesday that he would have to be truthful. Facebook’s reasoning is that, unlike other candidates, Hampton was running for office solely to lie in his campaign ads and therefore shouldn’t be allowed to do so.
In a statement, Facebook told Fortune, “This person has made clear he registered as a candidate to get around our policies, so his content, including ads, will continue to be eligible for third-party fact-checking.”
Translation: Facebook will likely fact-check Hampton’s ads if and when he submits one.
On Wednesday, Hampton told Fortune that he is considering taking legal action against Facebook for “biased policies,” which he says shouldn’t be applied to him since he’s legitimately running for office.
“It is ludicrous to say that anyone is or isn’t a politician right after you gave a giant speech about free speech,” Hampton says, referring to a talk Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg gave two weeks ago at Georgetown University, where he defended Facebook’s decision against policing political ads.
In addition to filing as a candidate in California’s 2022 governor’s race, Hampton says he has other political credentials. He previously ran for Congress in California and got attention for first declaring his candidacy in a tweet.
“I have been a politician for a decade,” Hampton says. “I have a Wikipedia entry.”
Facebook has been under pressure to change its political ad policies that permit politicians to lie. The policy stands in contrast to other kinds of ads on Facebook, such as commercial ads, which are required to be truthful.
The issue is even more complex since politicians often upload voter rolls to Facebook and then use Facebook’s tracking tools to target a very specific slices of the population.
Critics say ad targeting results in a lack of scrutiny from the general public. While a television political ad can be seen by a large and diverse audience, Facebook ads are often only seen by a narrow audience. Facebook has opened a library of every political ad on its service, allowing campaigns to keep track of the ads their opponents buy. However, the ad library only sheds light on general metrics, including spending, how many times it was shown, the states where it was shown, and a breakdown of gender and age. Opponents, therefore, can’t see how lies about them are targeted to a specific audience.
Campbell Brown, a former news anchor who is now head of news partnerships at Facebook, defended Facebook on Wednesday, saying journalists should be the ones who figure out what is true and what isn’t—not Facebook.
“Having spent most of my pre-Facebook career as a journalist covering politics, I have been astonished at the reaction by other journalists to Facebook’s decision not to police speech from political candidates,” she writes. “I strongly believe it should be the role of the press to dissect the truth or lies found in political ads—not engineers at a tech company.”
It’s a viewpoint Facebook executives have continued to voice as the pressure on them builds.
“They haven’t thought this through enough. They are not politicians, so they don’r understand what politicians are like,” Hampton says. “I think Facebook, at this moment, is the greatest threat to U.S. democracy I have ever seen.”
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